Sunday, March 6, 2011

#306: Closing Time

Actors' Guild of Lexington... the little theatre that could...
 There's something very special about the evening after you close a play. If you've ever tried to act for a living, you know the sensation of "Oh, my God. What am I gonna do now?" Since I am no longer a professional actor, I don't have to panic about my next gig... at least not from a financial point of view. But even when I was relying on my actor's paycheck to live, there was something more than just the end of a job going on when a play closed.

It's like a little death. You've spent weeks, maybe months giving birth to this little person who lives for a couple hours a night on stage. You get to know them. You fall in love with them. Then one Sunday afternoon, they're gone. You don't need that walk, that voice, those words any more. It's time to let go and move on.

I always grieve a little. I've been blessed to play some great roles in my life. Saying goodbye to someone like Prospero or Tevye isn't easy. I miss them. I'll miss Shelly Levene, too. He was such a tough, frightened guy with his own strange set of ethics. He always knew what was right. He just got a little lost trying to sort out what was wrong now and then. On a personal level, Shelly was my guide back to the stage, and for that, I am grateful.

You say goodbye to the company, too. You'll work with many of these actors again. Maybe all of them. The director may cast you in something else. The crew will turn up on other shows, in other theatres. But there's a chemistry, a community that will never exist again once the last chair is stacked and the last light is struck. You'll play again, but it will never be just like this again. That's a little sad, but it's also worth celebrating.

Ours is a temporal art. The theatre exists in time, not just in space. It appears out of nowhere, then it goes away. There's nothing left to frame or print or put in a glass case. No group of artists, no audience will ever share what we have shared during our brief time together. Look, I'm not naive. Sometimes that's a good thing. Sometimes customers and performers are both glad to let the door slam behind them. But every now and then, you're glad you have a memory. You're glad you'll be able to look back and remember what it was like to walk and laugh and sing for a few hours in a world that came and went like the leaves of a sugar maple.

Glengarry Glen Ross was a beautiful tree for me. The company was a real dream team. Some of the finest actors in town, a great script, a director with terrific instincts for how to manage so unwieldy a combination of ego and talent. The crew performed flawlessly. The designers worked miracles with almost no budget, and the theatre staff were as friendly and professional as anyone could hope for. And the audiences... oh, those beautiful people out there in the dark. Every night was like making love, like dancing with a new partner. There were friends and supporters, lovers and strangers, and they all gathered hoping to be told a good story. For the most part, they seemed to feel like they got one. When acting is this much fun, you understand why they call us "players." Memorizing your lines -- that's work. But sharing a play with a theatre full of people -- that's the best kind of play I know.

So long, Shelly. You did a lot for me. More than Mr. Mamet could have ever imagined. Maybe we'll meet again one day. Maybe not. But whatever happens, I'll never forget you, old boy. You gave me back my heart.


1 comment:

  1. You were awesome!! Hope to see you perform again soon.


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